August 5th – August 22nd
Chiang Mai is the largest city in the north of Thailand, full of backpackers who want to explore the surrounding jungle and mountains to do things like caring for elephants or white-water rafting or zip-lining. The old city is littered with the ubiquitous temples and is fringed by the old city walls, just outside which are markets of various sizes, all selling handmade wares and delicious foods. We liked it here.
It was, as ever, the food that we wanted to crack first, so we enrolled on a cooking class with a delightfully cheerful man called Sammy. Sammy was one of those perma-stoned characters who giggled uncontrollably all the time at fairly innocuous things like saying his name (haha!) or chopping some lemongrass (hehe!) or finding out that one of his class had chilli in her eye (teeheehee!). This class was a bargain – we spent the whole day on his farm, cooking five dishes and even finding time to nap in his hammocks, plus we were given another cookbook. Now there’s really no excuse for us not cooking for some of you when we get back.
We decided to spend some time exploring the local area ourselves and rented a moped for a couple of days. From this vantage point we saw all of Chiang Mai’s city walls (three times in fact, mainly because I developed a strange but debilitating aversion to turning right), but once we were brave enough we ascended the nearest mountain to visit the Huay Keaw and Monthathan waterfalls, and the Doi Suthep temple which sat looking over all of Chiang Mai. Despite the regular 1.00pm hour of heavy rainfall, we had fun and it would be correct to say we didn’t have one hairy moment on the bike…
Pai sits somewhere in the mountains near Chiang Mai, and is famed for its relaxed atmosphere. Cool people would call this a ‘vibe’. A kind of food festival springs up at night as the streets become lined with delicious and tempting stalls selling Thai food, falafel, waffles, barbecued food and more. We climbed up to our guesthouse quite pleased with the panoramic views overlooking the valley, although we did find the couple who ran the place very odd, not least because both of them called everybody ‘darling’ but also because there was a real sense that neither knew what was going on. Fawlty Towers was very much the blueprint here.
On our first day in Pai we walked around a bit and had a beer by the river.
On our second day in Pai we lazed in our hammock and watched a bird build a nest.
On the third day in Pai, at three in the morning, a man broke open our window, leaned in and stole Lauren’s bag. Lauren woke upon hearing the noise and saw the thief, who immediately scarpered. There was little in the bag other than our passports, but we didn’t realise the bag had gone until later on – sleep can do that to you. So it was, 5 hours after the bag was stolen, we reported it to our guest house – to Basil and Manuel, the ones who called everyone darling. The lady of the house shouted at us, telling us she was anglee, darling – I told her I was a fan of her films but we had more pressing matters at hand. She began swearing in English but wasn’t using the words in the right context or in the right places in her sentences, which I had a real urge to correct but was too busy using my teacher voice to stop her shouting. A farcical trip to the police station followed, where all five police officers interrogated Ang Lee, Lauren and myself, repeating the same questions over and over as if we had somehow stolen our own passports, before taking a phone call from a French lady who had found the bag and all its belongings in a bush and had handed it in to our guest house. The whole of the police force raced up the hill and Lauren, Ang Lee and I had a hug. For her efforts, the French lady was immediately suspected (by Ang Lee) of having taken the bag, despite Lauren’s insistence that she’d seen a man at the window.
On the fifth day we cycled to waterfalls and a canyon.
On the sixth day there was a lot of rain through the night. Lauren woke up at 5.30am, looked out of the window and saw the river was no longer down the grassy verge, but right outside our door. It had burst its banks, creating a scene which we’ve only witnessed before in news reports. The water was a thick brown sludge, full of chairs and trees and other debris, and we only had one option – to jump in. Somehow we packed most of our things in around three minutes (something Lauren has never done before), and into the water we went, wading through waist-high muck, trying to ignore the giant insects and concentrate on just getting away. The rate at which the water kept rising was unbelievable – when we first looked out of the window we took a picture because we thought it was novel; about a minute later we realised it was a flash flood and we could be in serious trouble.
I don’t think either of us would mind admitting that we’ve never been more frightened. The water was getting deeper, at one point almost neck-high, Lauren slipped and struggled her way through and all we could hear was rushing water and screams for help from other stranded tourists. Thankfully, we got out; we went to help others still stuck at the bottom and throwing away an assortment of clothes seemed fairly trivial afterwards. Somehow, we were lucky – only a few scratches and bruises, a few items thrown, but nothing important went.
After this, we sought refuge at the only high point we knew of – Ang Lee’s guest house. We were filthy, tired and shaking, and left Pai shortly afterwards. We headed back to Chiang Mai grateful to have avoided injury or worse – clothes and books and the like can be replaced.
You can see why God had himself a rest on the seventh day – we were absolutely knackered. We’d earmarked a trek in the jungle which included either white-water rafting or a bamboo boat cruise but cancelled that, and instead spent the day picking thorns and stones out of each other’s feet. We briefly contemplated coming home early but, both being competitive souls, we didn’t want to admit defeat, despite not knowing what we were playing or what the rules were.
To borrow from my lovely Nana: we liked Pai, but Pai didn’t like us.
Our final stop before Bangkok was Koh Samet, 3 hours east of the capital and all it took to get there was 24 hours of travel via a combination of taxi, train, tuk tuk, minibus, boat and a songthaew. This idyllic island has three roads, fourteen white beaches, waters so clear you can spot the jellyfish a mile off, and not much else. It was perfect.
Bangkok: an ending
It has been near enough 5 months since we saw our parents, our families, our friends. We’ve had the most brilliant time, seeing things we’d never thought we’d see and doing things we’d never thought we’d do. We’ve loved it. We’ve found out more about each other than we’d ever thought we’d know, or wanted to know. We now know that we are as equally as stubborn as one another. I’ve learnt that Lauren is always right; she’s learnt that I am always right (unless she is). Lauren has taught me how rubbish I am at looking for stuff (I couldn’t find the haystack, let alone the needle); I’ve learned that she is the most indecisive person in the world (she thinks, maybe).
Five months isn’t a long time, but consider what’s happened since we left:
– the Boro got promoted
– the Euros, Glastonbury and the Olympics came and went
– Brexit and the ensuing political chaos
– the deaths of Prince, Muhammad Ali, Johan Cruyff, Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne and the Labour party
– Maz and Pete moved house
It’s all change, innit? It’d be worth considering whether we’ve changed as a result of our sojourn away from everyone else – possibly; possibly not. Maybe it’s for others to judge. What we have come to realise is how wonderful other humans are.
Now, that may come as a surprise. To be honest, we can take or leave the vast majority of other people, with their selfie sticks and their man-buns and their anklets and their raised inflections. But on those two days in Pai, our faith in other people was more than restored.
Basically, a wonderful trip around the world was very nearly ruined by one thieving prick in a vest. We’ve met brilliant people all the way through, all doing brilliant things. But there will always be the occasional idiot. The idiot who thinks racism or sexism is ok, or insulting locals is acceptable, or stealing is a justifiable way of getting by. However, in Pai, that French girl made a choice to help and saved us no end of trouble. The floods were something we’ll not forget in a hurry – again, people helped each other, either to carry bags, or to guide others through the mess, or to give strangers refuge. We’ve met so many wonderful people that it’s only possible to realise that people are inherently good, and we will take that with us.
The best people of all are those we’ve missed, and we can’t wait to see you all. We will bore you with our photos and we won’t stop until you’ve seen them all.
That’s it then. I’ve been told I can be quite abrupt. As such, the blog will end on this full-stop.